The Israel Antiquities Authority on Sunday presented a rare clay seal that appears to be linked to religious rituals that took place at the Second Temple 2,000 years ago. The coin-sized seal found underground near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City bears two Aramaic words meaning "pure for God."
Archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University said on Sunday that this was the first discovery of such a seal from the period and a unique artifact from the Temple practice. He said the seal was likely used by Temple officials assigning an object for ritual use — oil, perhaps, or an animal intended for sacrifice. Materials used by Temple priests had to be ritually pure.
Reich added that the seal dates from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D., when Roman forces destroyed the Temple.
While the purifying process has been documented extensively, it was never been fully proven until now. The seal impression clearly attests to the special purity measures that worshipers subscribed to in and around the Temple and the great lengths they went to in order to prepare themselves for the privilege of entry to the Temple area.
Jews. In Jerusalem. At the Temple.
What will the Arabs say?
One thing that puzzles me about the recently discovered seal from Jerusalem is its Aramaic inscription. The seal reads דכא ליה (‘pure to Yah[weh]‘), and evidently has some sort of ritual significance...The one thing that surprises me about this, however, is
that the inscription is clearly in Aramaic, not Hebrew. This would be highly unusual for a priestly item. Deutsch offers an alternative theory that the seal was a token used in the monetary exchange for a libation offered in the temple. The use of Aramaic in this case would make more sense, as a lay person was involved in the exchange. However, the phrase ‘pure for Yaw(weh)’ seems a little peripheral to the exchange itself. I want to propose a slightly different understanding of this little seal.
We know that the moneychangers in the Jerusalem temple exchanged ordinary coins with Tyrian silver coins. These Tyrian coins were noted for the purity of their silver. While most silver coins in the Roman Empire were only 80% silver, the Tyrian coins were approximately 94% silver—the highest purity level of all coins. They were, therefore, deemed as fit for monetary exchanges in the temple, as well as the
collection of the famous half-shekel temple tax...The Tyrian coins were minted in Tyre for over a century, until the Romans closed the Tyrian mint in c. 18 BC—just after Herod’s renovation of the Jerusalem temple began...
Since all monetary purchases in the temple were made in Tyrian silver, it seems reasonable that there was some kind of system in place to guarantee that pilgrims were using the correct currency exchanged at the temple. The recently discovered seal from the Old City of Jerusalem may have served this purpose. A pilgrim would come to
Jerusalem with whatever coins they had, and would go to an officially sanctioned moneychanger in or near the temple complex. They would hand over their coins, receive Tyrian silver in exchange, as well as a token (the seal) guaranteeing the purity of the silver they were receiving...the token was written in Aramaic so that a lay person (a pilgrim) might understand that they had received pure currency that was officially endorsed by the temple authorities. The pilgrim would then take these Tyrian silver coins, along with the accompanying token, and use them to make purchases, such as sacrificial animals or libations, within the temple itself.
Director of Postgraduate Studies,
Moore Theological College (moore.edu.au)